Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Jones the steam

Back in the Good Old Days (surely you remember?), steam trains ran up and down our railways, carrying people, carrying freight, carrying two dragons (surely Ivor was real?).

They took ages to get going when being started from cold - I can't find anything to tell me how long but I remember stories of the footplate guys being there hours before the train got going to nurse it into life.

Remember the Wendible promised in her speech to Labour's Aviemore conference that Rhona Brankin would set up a literacy commission to examine why 50 years of Labour rule had left a whole lot of Scots unable to read and write.

I'm told it met for the first time yesterday to sketch out the ground. Here's the members:

CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan - isn't he on another Labour Commission? What a busy chap. His employers must be very understanding.

Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council who last week put the boot into Labour policy on schools:
Judith Gillespie: PFI is an extremely strange creature. I was involved with the first Audit Scotland report on the subject, which was a wonderful learning experience. I was staggered to learn that, at the end of the day, all the money comes out of the public purse, because the money that is raised by the consortia is repaid through borrowing and the maintenance contract is largely paid for out of council funding.
I understand that there will always be profit involved in building a school, because the builder will make the profit that a contractor usually makes, but it is extraordinarily strange that we are confronted with the myth that PFI somehow brings in private money. Given that, at the end of the day, the money comes from the public purse, I have long been puzzled about why the system could not have involved normal public procurement—either way, the Government pays.
Glasgow Labour Councillor Gordon Matheson - with a wonderful and varied experience of education, having gone to school and served on Glasgow's education committee.

Professor Tommy Mackay - actually a decent shout - an educational psychologist I believe, and a chap with experience in things educational who could actually contribute to the debate - if he isn't drowned out by Labour politicians looking for petty advantage.

Big Brother winner John Loughton - he's a busy lad, eh? This is his second commission as well, he'll be getting to know Iain McMillan awfy well. When's he going to study for his degree?
So there you have it - Labour starting to think about the process of developing policies at last. Maybe in time they'll understand how to be an opposition, but I get the feeling that they've just lit the flames under the boiler, that old puffer is going to take a while to get going.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Commissioner, commissioner, where have you been?

On the Independence Commission which doesn't yet know it's an Independence Commission (oh ye of little faith) - a couple of interesting points...

1. Journalists were told that if they wanted to cover the launch they would have to ask Parliament for permission for access for photographers and camera crews but would have to ask the Scotland Office for permission to interview Calman. Guess who's in charge of this commission? Interesting idea having to ask the Scotland Office before carrying out an interview in our Parliament, isn't it?

2. MSPs were told the names by the Scotland Office - rather interesting for a Commission supposedly set up by Parliament, isn't it?

3. On that first point again - third parties aren't allowed to carry out press operations in Parliament - the SPCB specifically ruled on that in February.

4. That's another thing - while we're on the SPCB, it still hasn't approved funding or resources for this Commission and it still has to follow through on the commission demanded by Parliament. Read the minutes here.

That couple of points has become like a trilogy with four parts ...

I'll come back to an interesting point made in comments to yesterday's post -
It's an interesting to see how far Labour and the LibDems have moved away from the Claim of Right, insisting that the Scottish people were sovereign and had a right to self-determination, and the idea of the Convention, aimed at bringing together the representatives of the nation.

Monday, 28 April 2008

And they're off ...

All the members of the commission (oh no it's not, oh yes it is) on the future of the Scottish Parliament have now been announced.

Whoo-hoo! Bring out the bunting!
So let's have a wee peek at the great and the good this weather:

Kenneth Calman, chair, now says he's going to make his commission part of the Scottish Government's National Conversation - it'll consider Independence soon as well. Calman is a medical chap and what doctor dismisses a diagnosis before beginning an examination?

Next up, Rani Dhir, a housing professional who was appointed to the board of Scottish Homes by Donald Dewar in 1998 and got an MBE in 2001. I don't know anything more about her.

Professor David Edward - an interesting choice, he was a Judge in the European Court of Justice. I don't think he's politically aligned, and his record speaks for himself. I think his appointment might actually cause a few problems when his intellect and analytical skills come up against the political drive of some of the other members. His sense of justice and a desire to get the right outcome rather than an expedient one could cause a bit of discomfort.

John Loughton Big Brother winner, wants to be a politician. Described by the Scotland Office as the President of the Scottish Youth Parliament (he's the Chair), he's also involved in a cross-party group.

A constant on the circuit next, Shonaig Macpherson, you may have seen her in such classics as SCDI, National Trust for Scotland, ITI Scotland, and so on.

And where would we be without Murdoch McLennan, heid bummer of the Telegraph Media Group? He must have a great view of Scotland from his office in Victoria, central London. That's him in the purple tie -
Iain McMillan, Director of CBI Scotland.
Mat Smith, Scottish Secretary of Unison.
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Glasgow.

Then there's the party makeweights: Murray Elder, Colin Boyd, James Douglas-Hamilton, Jamie Lindsay, Audrey Findlay and Jim Wallace.

Interestingly, five of the six party places are filled by members of the House of Lords - that's a great start for a commission deciding on Scotland's democratic future, isn't it?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Salmond agrees to meet Brown

I am informed that Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, has agreed to meet Gordon Brown to discuss a wee problem concerning petrol supplies when his Eckness is nearby in any case.

It made me wonder about what reception he would get as FM rolling up to the door of Downing Street (in a car). It took me back to a speech made by a Tory dude of the name of Hague on The 21st of January this year - one of the cast has changed, but the chagrin is still the same - do I want to meet him:

We can all picture the scene at a European Council sometime next year. Picture the face of our poor Prime Minister as the name “Blair” is nominated by one President and Prime Minister after another: the look of utter gloom on his face at the nauseating, glutinous praise oozing from every Head of Government, the rapid revelation of a majority view, agreed behind closed doors when he, as usual, was excluded. Never would he more regret no longer being in possession of a veto: the famous dropped jaw almost hitting the table, as he realises there is no option but to join in. And then the awful moment when the motorcade of the President of Europe sweeps into Downing street. The gritted teeth and bitten nails: the Prime Minister emerges from his door with a smile of intolerable anguish; the choking sensation as the words, “Mr President”, are forced from his mouth,

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Labour - obsessed with the SNP

I was directed to Scottish Labour's website today. It's all about the SNP!

They've written the SNP Scottish Government a report card and launched it with a terrible photo-op in Glasgow - you'll see the pictures, no doubt - try not to mock them, the poor dears.

I have in my possession a piece of paper - it's the background note on the report card (thanks Simon).

Rhona Brankin writes:
If Alex Salmond brought his report card on education home to his mother, she wouldn't be amused.
Rhona, Rhona, Rhona - that comma isn't needed - extra lessons for you! I think that if Mrs Salmond were still alive she'd be quite pleased with what the SNP is doing in education:
  • Class sizes are getting smaller

  • 47 new schools already approved, more to come. Labour's target will be exceeded by the SNP - and we're squeezing out PFI / PPP

  • Graduate Endowment abolished

  • Working with councils to provide a nursery teacher in every class, free swimming in council pools, and extra PE

Pauline McNeill bauchles in to say:
The SNP are overpromising and underdelivering on Justice
"The SNP is" rather than "The SNP are", Pauline. Education must hae been awfy under Labour. Unfortunate that Labour released this document the day after the first of one thousand extra police officers passed out of Tulliallan. There has also been, of course:
  • Reform of sentencing

  • Ongoing reform of the courts

  • Improving rape law

  • Taking money from criminals and using it to provide sporting opportunities for children

The erudite Johann Lamont on SNP performance on housing:
The SNP stands charged with stupidity or cynicism
Well, which charge would you like to make madam? Bullets, of course:
  • More central heating units installed in the first year of an SNP Government than in Labour's best year

  • A new era of council housing launched

  • Shared equity programmes being rolled out

  • Additional help for first time buyers being considered after consultation

Mags Curran on health:
There will be long-term consequences in the health of our nation because of SNP decisions taken now.
Quite right Mags, you're quite right - we'll be much healthier as a result of SNP decisions like:
  • Keeping hospitals open

  • Reducing prescription charges en route to abolishing them

  • Building a new hospital - without PFI / PPP
It goes on and on, never footnoted, never any evidence offered, purveying error as fact as deception as truth. One year on and Labour members still haven't worked out why they lost. Neither on the website nor in this paean to inadequacy can anyone find anything about Labour, some idea about where Labour should go in the future (I could offer a suggestion...), or anything that might lead an honest chap to think there was some spark lurking - a dim spark, no doubt, but surely there.

Ach well.

Friday, 25 April 2008

PFI? Pfwah! Give us the Scottish Futures Trust I say!

How much does Scotland waste on PFI/PPP every year? £500 million!

Yup, half a billion quid - the Edinburgh tramline every year (£508 million for a tramline? With their reputation?). Ridiculous! It's a waste of public money.

Don't take my word for it - ask some folks with an opinion, Unison, the public sector union, for example. I especially recommend the publication At What Cost?

Don't trust Unison? What about Thomas Blaiklock, PFI/PPP consultant who says
given the current state of the NHS as a public service organisation, PFI/PPP is a diversion of scarce and expensive resource

Still not convinced? What about Nick Minchin, Australian Minister for Finance under John Howard? Academics perhaps? Professor John Loxley of the University of Manitoba, or Hellowell and Pollock?

Then there's the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants, followed swiftly by Architecture and Design Scotland, who are not all that far ahead of the Smith Institute.

I recommend the Smith Institute paper for the delightful quotes:
a broad consensus is forming that the PFI process is breaking down, and the very benefits that it was meant to deliver – greater competition and innovation – are increasingly being undermined. - Denise Chevin, editor, Building Magazine
Despite the successes of the private finance initiative so far, contracts are still too expensive, too time-consuming and insufficiently contested. The root causes are identified as public-sector resource constraints, poor time management and insufficient attention to financing. While the Treasury is experimenting with new funding approaches, and the public sector partner must become involved in financing decisions at an earlier stage, it is perhaps also time for banks to reassess the creditworthiness of PFI projects. - Adrian Bell, Chairman of Royal Bank of Canada Europe Limited

Setting aside the politics, at initial financing of a project, the taxpayer is taking the interest rate and structural risks inherent in the funding package that is negotiated between the private sector and its bankers – risks that are magnified under typical PFI contracts, given their length. - Bell

Some projects have also suffered from an inability of the public sector sufficiently to identify and prescribe its principal requirements – partly because some requirements do not lend themselves to the PFI structure of prescribing outputs, but also because of limitations of resource and expertise. - Jonathan Inman, Partner at Linklaters

Why, outside the demands of the public-sector borrowing requirement and the necessary risk transfer, are we entering into 35-year contracts for services? It simply is not something that happens in the private sector. Every routine commercial lease has an early break clause, without the requirement to go through a whole series of hoops around performance issues. - Peter Dixon, Chair of the Housing Corporation and of University College London Hospitals NHS Trust

we have to be able to change as service requirements change and the PFI contract, by its very nature, is arthritic. - Dixon

So what's the SNP's alternative? We came into Government promising to provide a range of procurement options for the public sector which would crowd out PFI and PPP.

There's a hospital in Glasgow which will be built under traditional procurement - £852 million which would have cost £4.2 billion under PFI/PPP.

47 school building projects have been approved by the SNP Government over the past year - 14 of them on an NPD (non profit distributing) model. More than 250 schools will be built over the lifetime of this Parliament.

There's £11 billion of infrastructure investment planned, and there's more to come.
  • That NPD part of school building is a pivotal underpinning part of the Scottish Futures Trust. Money which under PFI / PPP is siphoned off as a return on equity will remain within the public sector and will be recycled into other projects.

  • Working as a central funder and promoter, the SFT will be able to provide the support and expertise that PFI/PPP has stripped out of the system.

  • Spreading the funding across many more projects means the finance will be cheaper.

  • The SFT will draw money in from a range of sources - including bond issues - minimising risk for the public purse and the finance market.
Who thinks it's a good idea? Lots of people. You can read the resposnses to the consultation on the Government's website at

Law firm Anderson Strathern:
The public sector may be more willing to seek and rely on expertise and support from a public body who was perceived to understand and represent the public sector's interests. The Lawyers think that in addition if SFT is able to borrow at a more commercially advantageous rate than the private sector this would facilitate better value for the public sector.

Architecture and Design Scotland:
As our recently published Annual Report sets out we do not consider that Scotland is getting the best value from new developments in the built environment. We therefore welcome the initiative to develop a better way of funding infrastructure investment and see the consultation on the role of a Scottish Futures Trust as a timely opportunity for the Scottish Government to bring design quality to the fore in public procurement

The BMA:
There is a perception that private sector project management adds efficiency to major capital developments. This has yet to be fully demonstrated and is often no more than an article of faith. The theory is that the management and other benefits brought by the private sector can outweigh higher financing costs. The SFT arrangements seem to have the capacity to deliver the expertise without the consequent excess financing costs.

The SFT, as an alternative method of capital investment, may have potential benefits such as providing a centre of expertise, prioritised investment across the whole of public sector, co-ordinated borrowing and reduced lead times for progressing projects.
The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers:
An apparent advantage of the agreement with the Scottish Futures Trust would be the potential for a larger support base for public bodies.

It's clear that the SNP Scottish Government is on the right track. Let's not waste any more public money on Labour's failure.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

New policy?

Given that collective cabinet responsibility means that when a Minister speaks the Government speaks, are we to understand from yesterday's Scottish Questions that the London Labour Government has a new policy on elections?
Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Would the organisation of elections in Scotland not be made much simpler if we adopted the same voting system for all elections in Scotland and throughout the UK? Would the best system not be the single transferable vote by proportional representation, which was agreed by the Minister’s party and mine when we were friends together in the Scottish Executive?
David Cairns: I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that things would be much easier if there were one system for all elections, and if that system were first past the post.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

M'lord George Foulkes

I've been reading George Foulkes' blog (I do it for you, you know), and I see that, way back in mid-March, he was complaining about being misquoted by SNP members like Alex Salmond. Salmond quoted him again in his speech to conference at the weekend, and I've put in that bit of the speech above wee Geordie's blog below so you can see how bad the First Minister is being to this peer of the realm.

I'm impressed by wee Geordie's courage in calling Joan Burnie a gullible fool, but slightly surprised that he doesn't know that the diarist in the Scotsman is Alba because, well, it's the Scotsman! Didn't that used to be Simon Pia? Anyway:

Salmond's bit from the beginning of his speech:
"Delegates, 'the SNP are on a very dangerous tack at the moment.'
"We are 'trying to build up a situation in Scotland where the services are manifestly
better than south of the Border.'
"Not my words, but the view from Lord George Foulkes in a recent BBC radio interview.
"And he was asked:
"'Is that a bad thing?'
"'No,' he replied. 'But they are doing it deliberately ...'
"Yes, delegates, our approach to government has been rumbled. He has found us out! We are deliberately making the lives of the people of Scotland better.
"Of course Lord George Foulkes thinks we are only doing this to upset the people of England. No George we are doing it to benefit the people of Scotland.
"Of course for some people south of the border, it has made them ask why their government isn’t acting in a similar way.

And the Complaynt of George (the spelling mistake is his):
Fri, 14th Mar '08 @ 12:19pm Deliberately Misleading
“Lies are half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
This applies to Alex Salmond’s selective misquotations from an Interview I did on the BBC’s Scotland at Ten programme with Colin Mackay. I pointed out that
services were better in Scotland but were not all done since May, many of them even pre-dated devolution.
But now the Nats are deliberately hyping them up and pushing them in the faces of the English to stir up discontent so they can ferment growing resentment between England & Scotland.
Now SNP propagandists are touting around the misquotation. First it has been picked up by bloggers, but now it is being represented by gullible fools like the appropriately named diarist Alba in the Scotsman and Joan Burnie in the Record.
It is sad that mainstream professional journalists like these no longer check with the original source – in this case the full transcript – before reporting SNP propaganda.
LORD GEORGE FOULKES : “The SNP are on a very dangerous tack at the moment. What they are doing is trying to build up a situation in Scotland where the services are manifestly better than south of the Border in a number of areas.”
COLIN MACKAY : “Is that a bad thing?”
LORD GEORGE FOULKES : “No. But they are doing it deliberately I think to fuel resentment. They could do it without saying much - that was happening before devolution , before the SNP took over, quietly, but now it’s almost a “ya boo sucks look at what we’re doing…”, people in England are saying - hey wait a minute this our taxes, whether or not that is true - that is how they feel. I think the SNP are doing this in order to Fuel the case for independentce, by building up resentment ... “

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

How poor they are, how poor

I was musing, as is my wont, upon the poverty of ambition of Labour politicians. Mid-muse I was directed to a posting by one J Arthur MacNumpty (I suspect this not to be his real name due to the fact that the bottom of the post says "Posted by Will" and the bit up top says that my cordial host is a certain Will Patterson. Of course, this could be MacNumpty laying a false trail, but still and all ...) wherein MacNumpty has indicated Labour's 1997 manifesto pledge
Our long-term objective is a lower starting rate of income tax of ten pence in the pound. Reducing the high marginal rates at the bottom end of the earning scale - often 70 or 80 per cent - is not only fair but desirable to encourage employment.

This goal will benefit the many, not the few.
I'm not as vexed as he is - although I see his point - by the upending of this pledge, since Labour had, obviously, met it before they killed it - a very Buddhist thing to do and obviously Wendy Alexander's influence.

What I was most interested in was J.'s (is it OK to just call him J. do you think?) closing submission to the jury, m'lud:
Before last year's election, I kept wondering if Labour at Holyrood were actually trying to lose. I'm now starting to wonder the same about Labour at Westminster.
It looks like that, doesn't it? Labour's current tribulations are the kind which have you thinking that you should turn away for decency's sake, but you just can't help watching. It's a horrible, almost voyeuristic fascination.
Why are Labour politicians so poor at the job? From Brown's dithering all the way down to their students being really pretty poor at putting a point across, they seem to have lost all ability to make traction and the solution appears to be to put the pedal down and hope for the best rather than work out what's going wrong.

Wendy Alexander today, for example, speaking to the STUC, accused the SNP of favouring big business. Ironic, really, since she still supports PPP/PFI and Salmond had just announced to applause in the same congress that Scotland's most expensive hospital ever would be built under traditional procurement. Even more ironic that labour's Margaret Curran still hasn't got the message about the lack of value for money under PFI/PPP in spite of the messages by people like Audit Scotland.

While we're talking about Labour falling apart, though, let's remember Lord Goldsmith saying he can't back Brown on the changes to the terrorism legislation - as a former Attorney General who has a bit of a wobbly reputation, his opinion that the case has not been made is almost as damaging as a Chancellor having to back down on the Budget Bill or offering to pay everyone's mortgage.

Mind you, at least they're in the news - where have the Libdems gone?

Monday, 21 April 2008

Those 20 seats.

20 Westminster seats.
Should be easy.
You could look at the seats we won last year which are obvious targets for victory this time - Dundee West, Livingstone, Kilmarnock, Gordon, but what else is there?

Well, Govan gets split into three under London rules, so that's three possibles, but there's something even more fun just hanging around if you know where to look - Additional Member votes (second votes or list votes, if you will).

Other than the 21 seats we won First Past the Post, we won the AM vote in Edinburgh North and Leith, Edinburgh Central, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Ross, Skye and Inverness West, all three seats in Aberdeen (I know we hold one, you don't always have to tell me), West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, and Dumbarton.

Libdems, on the other hand, only won four on the AM vote, two of which combine at Westminster (Orkney and Shetland combine, Ming Campbell's seat was another and Edinburgh West made up the list - Edinburgh West by only 501 votes). The Libdems got horsed in some of the seats they hold FPTP and, with the Conservatives biting chunks out of their vote in places like Edinburgh West, they're in serious soapy bubble. Wonder if they'll be saying vote Libdem to keep the Nats out?

Can't see a massive Conservative revival, but they have to be fancying their chances in some of the Border seats and maybe giving the Chancellor a wee fleg in Pentlands (I know it has a different name for London elections, but Edinburgh South West is a really boring name).

All in all, it looks like Scotland is lined up for an election to the London Parliament which will see the Libdems vanishing under the insipid leadership of Clegg, the Conservatives making a very modest recovery (whether that includes taking any more seats will be interesting to watch), and a battle between Labour and the SNP raging back and forward across the country.
Given how weak Gordon Brown is, appearing more and more like Labour's John Major, the timing of the election and the standing economic position at the time will be interesting. I'm not sure how much Brown factors Scotland into his calculations about such things (Labour politicians appear not to think too much about Scotland at all), but he has a wee problem.

He can hold off, hoping that the SNP Government's honeymoon eventually ends, but there's no sign at all of that happening and he runs the risk of seeing the economy hit the buffers and Cameron coming storming home in a landslide. He also has the problem of the SNP Government building up a reputation for competence and trustworthiness that Labour simply doesn't have.

He and Darling could try to squeeze the Scottish Government's funding, but they've already learned that the Scottish Government fights back and that people are not best pleased with such a lack of grace.

What a quandary - dither and go down as the man who lost Blair's legacy through a lack of decisiveness or go early and be the man who lost Blair's legacy through a hot-headed grab for power?
Blair's legacy?
Well, he won three elections, just like Thatcher. Will Brown manage a Major and pull off an unexpected victory? Well Cameron's no Kinnock, he won't make the same mistakes, Major didn't share the blame for Thatcher's Government in the same way that Brown shares the blame for Blair's, and Brown has already teetered and the edge of an election so now appears weak. I think he's stuffed.

Labour needs a new leader.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Not bad, I think

May 16th will be the first anniversary of the SNP taking power. I think that it's been the best year in government that we've ever had.

Manifesto promises being delivered, prescription charges starting to disappear; the 1,000 extra police officers starting to be trained; class sizes coming down thanks to the concordat; council tax frozen as the first stage of removing it; Graduate Endowment tuition fee abolished; tolls gone from the bridges; RET on ferries; extra investment in Edinburgh Festivals; hospitals saved; National Portrait Gallery getting refurbished; building relationships with Europe; money seized from criminals being used to provide sports opportunities for youngsters; sentencing changing; and so on.

The best bit, though, is the incredible change in the feeling of the nation. There's a can-do attitude and belief in ourselves now. The place just feels better these days.

Scotland is on the march. Certainly the best year the SNP has had in Government.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Now, I don't support Gordon Brown, but ...

I'm not a fan of Gordon Brown, I don't think he's very good and I oppose his Government's policies on a whole range of topics - especially the constitution.

The insult hurled at him by Lord Desai, though, was pretty low. Desai, a former Labour front-bencher in the Lords told the London Evening Standard that
"Gordon Brown was put on earth to remind people how good Tony Blair was"
that his style was
"porridge, or maybe haggis"
Flaming cheek! What have porridge and haggis ever done to hurt Lord Desai? A scurrilous slur on Brown's Scottishness if you ask me! He then told the BBC that Blair was champagne and caviar to Brown's porridge or haggis and
"I am not stabbing him at all, but if it was it would be in the front. I have said something openly, frankly"
It wasn't all bad for el Gordo, though, Desai went on to say that the Labour party was not yet at the stage of having a leadership challenge, but
"When - or if - the time comes, I think it has to be David Miliband because he has shown maturity about the leadership and he withstood the pressure to stand last year against Gordon.”
If Miliband is his answer the question must be horrendous. If that's Desai's analysis of Miliband then his political nose is blocked up and Brown might not be in trouble at all.

Miliband is in the Wendy Alexander league of politicians, and she showed again today that she isn't up to it - at First Minister's Questions she didn't have a question for her final pop. Incredible, I thought.

Take a wee read of Brian Taylor's blog on it or watch it for yourself on the iplayer.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Can't even get this right

There has been a campaign, launched, I understand, by Edinburgh University Students' Association, to overturn a decision by the Scottish Government on Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). Couple of difficulties -

1. The campaign was launched after the consultation closed.

2. The decision hasn't been made yet.

Oh - maybe a third problem - the draft guidance to local authorities doesn't say what the Association says it does.

The draft guidance stresses that local authorities should respond to their local circumstances and plan accordingly. It states explicitly that planning policies should NOT be used to limit HMOs due to concerns over potential behaviour of the landlord or the tenants.

The draft guidance would not alter current planning policy. It would confirm practices that have been in place since 2004 (planning circular 4/2004) which already pointed out that decisions on HMOs require to be made in accordance with the development plan for the area.

So how could a venerable institution like Edinburgh University Students' Association, using the name of an institution with such a long and honourable history, get something so wrong?

Well, President of the Students' Association at Edinburgh is Josh MacAlister. He's a member of the Labour party - no, it's not political bias on his part, nor even part of his campaign for greater glory.

Poor Josh is a member of the Labour party - can't get anything right.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Actually, it's Brian Wilson's fault

It's just been pointed out to me that Brian Wilson is partly to blame for the awful state of teh Labour party that he keeps complaining about:
Brian Wilson MP says: Allan is an excellent colleague, who has represented this area with great diligence and personal commitment. Every community in the constituency can see the benefits of Allan's hard word and involvement in delivering projects. With your support, we will continue to work together constructively in the future.
There's also a chance to have your say on our constitutional future:

Good vibrations? Oh no ...

Perusing the Telegraph, as is my wont, I came upon a most interesting opinion piece by one Brian Wilson which you may wish to read at your leisure.

Aye, life's a beach, boy, life's a beach. Now your very best friend and mine, this former Labour MP and former Minister who served in the same Government as Gordon Brown, has recently been cranking up his criticism of a Labour party demonstrating incompetence on an almost artistic scale. He has, however, now applied a large tackety boot to Gordon Brown's most delicate appendages.

If I may haud my beak and quote from Brian Wilson talking about Brown:
It is as if there has been a collective decision taken among those who were not his natural supporters, but were prepared to give him a chance, that their generosity has been abused.

For many [Labour MPs], the problem is that they are being asked to support an agenda that they cannot make head or tail of

The most problematic conundrum is why a Labour government should be penalising some of the lowest-paid wage earners in our society by abolishing the 10p tax band. As with the poll tax in days of yore, this succeeds in offending not only the victims, but also a large body of opinion that does not wish to benefit at their expense.

At some point, therefore, Labour MPs are bound to make a sober assessment of whether or not they can win under Gordon Brown. Their overwhelming instinct and desire will be to suspend disbelief and assure themselves that they can.

So Labour MPs can't work out what their Government is supposed to be about, voters who were prepared to give Brown a chance to prove himself feel betrayed, Labour has abused the very people it promised to defend (you'll have heard about them - the weak and the vulnerable), and Labour MPs don't believe that they can win an election with Brown leading them - the same will apply to Labour MSPs with their leader.

Image shamelessly nicked from the Grauniad, but given that paper's stated values, it won't mind at all.

Brian Wilson compared Gordon Brown to Donald Crowhurst - it's a bad comparison because Crowhurst had a conscience.

Monday, 14 April 2008

So Gordon Brown - he's a bit rubbish

It came to me in a dream - oh yes!

After thinking about Gordon Brown's 'economic miracle' and the fuss Labour of London's making about refusing to pony up Scotland's money if we dare to decide to be different in local taxation, I came to the inescapable conclusion that something just didn't add up.

I meandered down to the Department of Work and Pensions (well, the website) and had a wee nose about at the benefit claimant numbers. The latest ones available are for May 2007 - not the most recent figures, but exactly 10 years after Labour took power and before the policies of the SNP Scottish Government had time to have an effect.
So 10 years into an economic miracle, how is it that Scotland has almost 428,000 Housing Benefit recipients? That's 19% of all the households in Scotland.

How does anyone square that 'economic miracle' with the more than 533,000 Council Tax Benefit recipients? Almost a quarter of Scottish households can't afford to pay Council Tax.

Where is their economic miracle? Or does the economic miracle only count for the wealthy and the super-wealthy that Brown courts just as Blair did before him?
Ten years of failure as Chancellor, another year failing as Prime Minister - Gordon Brown is either just not cut out for the job or applies his energies in the service of those who don't really need any help from government. Either way he should go now.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Economy's a rotten egg

Gordon Brown used to have a reputation for good political and economic management. It was, of course, guff. The 'credit crunch' supposedly sweeping all before it like a monetary tsunami indicates that a different story might be more accurate. The actualite of the oncoming of this liquidity trap might not have been easy to predict but the coming of the squeeze was entirely predictable - and has echoes in the liquidity trap Japan faced in the 1990s when helicopter money didn't help. Krugman's contemporary examination of the Japan trap reads as if it could have been written this year - and his conclusions should scare the heck out of anyone looking for a rapid end to this crisis.

Krugman wrote that a decade ago, but you can see the ghost of that trap in Roubini's warning of the extent of the current crash. Add to that Krugman's analysis of why helicopter funding failed the Japanese banks and the prognosis is pretty poor. Some European stock markets are already in the grip of the bear, and we could still see a profits recession to force markets even lower.

The blame lies squarely at the feet of those who failed to regulate financial services properly, as Stiglitz pointed out recently, including one Gordon Brown. In the words of Ken Clarke, former Conservative Chancellor:
"He ignored the warnings that personal debt was getting way out of hand, and as for the Government's finances, huge deficits have been run up. This means there is less money available to spend now that the economy is in trouble. From about 2002 onwards, Brown has been an old-fashioned tax-and-spend Chancellor."
We should not imagine that the US 'sub-prime' mortgage lunacy is the culprit here, not even the fantastically-named ninja mortgages, it's only a symptom of the malaise rather than a cause. The cause has been a refusal on the part of governments to accept that economies undergo corrections. As a result of attempting to avoid 'boom and bust' - better referred to as the economic cycle - governments adjusted credit regulations to lever more debt into the economy to continue an artificial driver of the economy - the Consumer Credit Act 2006 is a prime example. Not only that, but governments have been similarly living on IOUs.

National Debt is not normally a problem because inflation takes care of the value of the indebtedness, but an absence of value-added production renders that usual calculation worthless. Stiglitz explains the deficiency from a US point of view, but you can apply the same calculation anywhere. You'll notice, too, that governments took no steps to improve the lot of homeowners facing repossession but hardly drew breath before stepping in to save banks and banking shareholders. While American firms are still obliged to mark-to-market there won't be any let-up in recession drivers either - the difficulties will be exacerbated by the damage they have caused.

Here the obsession that Brown has continued of bowing before wealth as if it has more value than people, where the worth of a person can be measured in their bank account and his failure to act to protect the poor, the vulnerable and the weak suggest that nothing will be done on Labour's watch to address the underlying problems which have created this avalanche of bad economic conditions.
Brown, of course, isn't entirely to blame, seeking to pin the blame entirely on him would require the same kind of naive simplicity that suggests that Blair alone took us to war time after time, that Barack Obama might change US foreign policy, or that Mugabe alone is the problem in Zimbabwe, but Brown must carry a large part of the responsibility for the problems caused.

His failure to act in the best interests of the people who elected him remains a terrible indictment of his betrayal of any collective ideology which might once have been part of a Labour leader's psychological make-up. Interestingly, considering the support Labour party members here are giving to Barack Obama (parallel to the hailing of the saviour that Blair received in the 1990s), his realignment since the beginning of the primary season is a remarkably similar abandonment of the principles he once professed to hold dear.

Perhaps if more politicians were willing to continue campaigning for the principles they professed to believe in we might one day aspire to the utopia described in this untitled William Stafford poem.

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed – or were killed – on this ground
hollowed by the neglect of an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Friday, 11 April 2008


I take an interest in politics. I do, therefore, watch US politics as much as I watch the politics of anywhere else in the world. I don't particularly support or oppose any candidate in the US Presidential campaign - I don't think I have a right to tell Americans who they should have as their political leaders (although if any of them asked my opinion, I'd tell them they should avoid shallow politicians like Barack Obama like the lumpy plague - we've suffered horrendously through 10 years of presentation and no substance in a Prime Minister and another year of no substance and no presentation).

That's why I was surprised to see Kezia Dugdale organising the Scotland for Obama campaign. Kezia, being in the Labour party, is well used to shallow and insincere politicians but why she thinks she should interfere in the politics of another nation and tell them who to elect is beyond me.

The annoying thing is that Kezia is intelligent enough to know better - I hope she's not pitching for a job on the other side of the ocean, that would be Labour in Scotland well and truly stuffed.

Another aspect to this support for Obama (there's a rally tomorrow - lordy lordy lordy!) - in addition to the Secretary pointing out that it is a little presumptious for a non-US citizen - is the observation of Geordie that support from Europe is unlikely to be helpful to a US Presidential candidate. Is Kezia playing a double-bluff?

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Wendy's Independence Commission

I've just spent a couple of days down in Galloway - first time I've dallied in that part of the country - it's a lovely part of country (don't tell Rob Davidson I was there and didn't visit him - I was nowhere near Dalbeattie).
Anyway, being in the constituency of Alex Fergusson (Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, noted unionist-type chap but generally good egg) brought my mind around to the Commission he's still to set up as a result of a Scottish Parliament vote (you know, the one Labour thinks it set up with Brown's blessing which isn't the right one because it doesn't fulfil the terms of the resolution).

I thought, in my usual, generous way, that I should offer a wee bit of advice to those who want to amend the devolution settlement but don't want Scots to have a wee vote about Independence.

We definitely need control of xenotransplantation back, that one's non-negotiable (in the iconic phraseology of Jim Wallace). We should have control of time and outer space as well - what self-respecting administration doesn't have them? And we can add to the list between now and forever if you want.

Here's a better solution. In the Scotland Act 1998, sections 28 to 35 make provisions about Westminster Ministers and their powers as well as noting Westminster's power to legislate on Scotland.

Why not repeal Schedules 4 and 5 of the Act, make a few amendments to the powers vested in the Scottish Secretary and proceed on the basis of common respect and cooperation?

Surely if London still has an emissary in Scotland with those powers then the shackles can quite safely be lifted from the Scottish Parliament and Government to allow them enough freedom to substantially improve the lives of the people of Scotland while London's interests will continue to be protected by the Scottish Secretary? That would also remove forever all of the arguments about which reservations were correct and which should be lifted.

It would be a sensible move for unionists to make which is why I'm fairly confident it won't be made - the union's case is being prosecuted by very small-minded people these days.
Must mention this idea to a few people and see what they think.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

What's in your cabinet?

It struck me after Des Browne's ramblings that it probably isn't his fault because he, after all, isn't the sharpest tool in the box, not the brightest light on the Christmas tree, not even approaching the hottest chilli in the packet, and quite a distance from aspiring to be the grooviest dancer in the disco.

Which is a wee bit worrying.

He is, as The Secretary pointed out to me between attempts to obtain a visa for Uzbekistan (don't ask, the answer would take too long), in the cabinet, holding down two fairly important jobs, responsible for prosecuting two conflicts and several peacekeeping operations as well as keeping an eye on the constitutional operations of Scotland. Surely we should be expecting someone with something approaching half a clue to be occupying that position?

Well, that got me to thinking - if someone with the soaring intellect of Desmond has made it to what used to be regarded as one of the great offices of state in London, how does Gordon Brown's cabinet compare to previous cabinets?
Tempting as it was to compare this bunch with Attlee's cabinet or even with some of Thatcher's cabinets, I think it's only fair to compare Gordon Brown's cabinet to the first cabinet of his immediate predecessor, Anthony Blair.

Let's have a look:

Prime Minister

Say what you like about the bold boy, but Tony Blair was an excellent ring-master. He believed the show to be entirely his in spite of all the other people who had to work devilishly hard to keep it running. He never feared the lions because he had a lion tamer looking after them; he wasn't worried about the acrobats falling because, to be honest, you can always get new acrobats; and the clowns were always there to deflect attention from anything that was truly horrific. Gordon Brown? He dropped his top hat shortly after he entered the ring and spends his time looking over his shoulder to see what's going on behind him. He's so worried about what's sneaking up on him he hasn't seen that the human cannonball is pointed straight at his head and is ready to fire.


In the 97 cabinet - one Gordon Brown, the straight man in the double act who never really appreciated that the straight man is supposed to be the butt of the jokes, not try his own 'non-endogenous growth theory' puns. He rode the wave of economic good times fairly well, and he managed to claim quite a bit of the credit for his surfing, so he will probably be judged as a competent chancellor - except for that becoming Prime Minister bit, that's the reputation knackered. I've never believed in the hype about Brown as Chancellor (maybe I'm biased), but he certainly outshone his successor - the problem being that he appointed his successor.

Alastair "what? No, I prefer Northern Soul" Darling ran straight into a faecal typhoon which, to be fair (oh, just this once), wasn't entirely of his making. He was part of a Government which encouraged thoughtless consumption which turned into a consumptive problem, so he was part of it, but it wasn't entirely his fault. What was spectacularly bad was his handling of what came his way his dithering and his over-ruling of a Bank of England decision on Northern Rock meant that the public purse ended up with a bill which some estimates put at over £100 billion (or four times what the Scottish Government gets to run Scotland) and a worthless former private company into the bargain.

Deputy Prime Minister

There isn't one in the Cabinet now, so Prescott takes the Oscar. As the great man himself might say "What? No, wasn't me - help!" and you thought I would criticise his command of the English language - shame on you!

Foreign Secretary

Robin Cook, wee ginger, garden-gnome type philanderer with an unfortunate twitch and a high-pitched voice or David Miliband. I still can't believe Miliband is Foreign Secretary, every time he appears on TV with that subtitle I'm baffled anew. I won't pretend to be a Robin Cook fan, there was plenty to dislike about the wee nyaff, but at least you could argue that he had talent - some people argued that he had loads of talent. Miliband has nothing to offer, nothing that I can detect at all. I watched him in front of the European Scrutiny Committee recently and he was torn apart - by Michael Connarty! Michael Connarty is a fairly talentless individual, wooden and struggling to make sense of the world, but he made mince of Miliband.
By my count that's 4-0 to Blair


What do you call a judge with no thumbs? Justice Fingers. Anyway, the posts in 97 were Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor, now they're not. Jack Straw was Home Sec in 97 and Derry 'home decorating a speciality' Irvine was Lord Chan. Now the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (following the Scottish model except for the Lord Chancellor bit) is Jack Straw (not much imagination there, Gordon) and the Secretary of State for the Home Department is Jacqui Smith. Well the old Straw man is hanging in there like a terrier who won't let go but has forgotten why it attacked in the first place, busy proposing to abolish recourse to the law and other woolly liberal ideas he used to support (of which hopefully more later), so that might be a score draw, but is Jacqui Smith really enough to compensate for the demise of Derry Irvine? Yes, Irvine was a tube and a blawhard, but he was actually quite bright - if it hadn't been for the wallpaper...


George Robertson or Des Browne? Hmmm ....

I'm sure you get the picture - Donald Dewar, Mo Mowlam, Chris Smith, even David 'well hello' Blunkett up against Johnson, Benn and Hutton? Dougie Alexander against Clare Short, even Gavin Strang against Ruth Kelly.

Blair, let's be honest, had people around him he disagreed with and their pedigree was far higher than Brown's cabinet (that's not saying much, right enough) - this could be because Blair didn't care about politics much, but it might be that Brown is simply not very good - I suspect the latter.

I think we're seeing a tired government, having tried renewal, now facing the end of its days - following the MacDougall model perfectly.
The question remaining is - who does Cameron appoint as the Conservative Scottish Secretary? Fluffy Mundell simply isn't up to it. Forsyth from the Lords? He wouldn't - would he?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

An episode of Desmond's

It must crush all hope when you've been drowning for almost a year and your rescuers are Yvette Cooper and Des Browne balancing on what little of your head is above water.

With Yvette Cooper understanding less about Funding the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly: Statement of Funding Policy (see especially paragraphs 6.3 and 13.2 and paragraphs 7 & 8 of the statement of principles - annexe A) than about buying herself a house, it was left to Desmond to come riding to the rescue with a fascinating article in Scotland on Sunday.

Des has titled his epistle to the nation "A Year of Governing Dangerously" - I do hope that he just doesn't appreciate the possible resonance of such a title rather than being quite that crass.

Mind you, the tone of his 919 words would suggest maybe not. When a politician starts to throw random and unjustifiable insults instead of debating policy you can be sure the unravelling is beginning. Since Dessie is a Minister in Her Majesty's Labour Government you can take it that the same falling apart is infecting the rest of them

Let's see what Des says. He compares the amount of legislation going through the London Parliament with the amount of legislation going through our Edinburgh Parliament like some over-keen competitor in a sports-car measuring competition. Here's an interesting thing, though, he says
24 of the 26 pieces of legislation in the Queen's Speech impact upon Scotland

The most interesting part of this isn't apparent until you cast a glance at the Queen's Speech and realise that only 20 pieces of legislation are in it. Surely a chap who holds 2 cabinet jobs should know what was in the Queen's Speech? It is, after all, the basic building block of the Westminster legislative programme.

Is Dessie confused? Well, look at these three statements:

The UK Government is actively legislating – with the SNP's agreement

In the parallel universe that the SNP inhabit, everything the UK Government does is portrayed as either an act of betrayal or interference in Scotland.

the SNP choose to use parliamentary time to provide a platform for Alex Salmond to grandstand, to debate issues outwith their responsibility and to promote disagreements with the UK Government, seemingly for the sake of it.

All in the same article! He's not finished at that either:
A statement of fact that council tax benefit has never been part of the block grant is labelled as meddling.
Can I refer him to the Statement of Principles at the back of the Statement of Funding mentioned above in relation to Yvette Cooper? This Statement of Principles was written by his good friend Alastair Darling while the Chancellor was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Paragraph 7 contains this wonderful line:
provision for Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit which will both come within the Scottish Block for the first time after devolution;

The document was revised and reissued in October 2007 and this bit wasn't changed, so we can assume it's still relevant. Our good Des goes on to accuse Scotland's Government of
seeking to contrive a row about access to additional funds they know there is no entitlement to

That'll be the £400 million or so in Council Tax Benefit (there should, of course, be a balancing adjustment in the Block Grant this year because Scottish benefit payments growth will be outstripped by English ones - paragraph 6.3, first point), the £120 million in prison building payments, perhaps the attendance allowance that was withdrawn when the Scottish Parliament introduced Free Personal Care - that kind of thing. Have we reached a billion quid yet? Here's the decker for Desmond from paragraph 2.7:
1. Departmental Expenditure Limits (DELs) set firm, three-year spending limits. Expenditure in DEL is split between those items within the Assigned Budget and those within the non-Assigned Budget. Spending within DEL is generally undifferentiated, as the devolved administrations will have full discretion over their spending priorities; these are ‘Assigned Budget’ items. Changes in provision for these items are determined through the Barnett Formula (see Chapter 4). If spending in DEL, however, is exceptionally ring-fenced and specific to that spending priority, these are known as ‘non-Assigned Budget’ spending items

That would be the prisons then. London claims the prisons money doesn't count because it came from reserves. Access to the Reserve is only supposed to be provided in exceptional circumstances - did London not plan to build these prisons? Chapter 10 of the funding statement makes it absolutely clear that you can't just take money out of the Reserve because that will open up the DEL again - whether it is the Scottish Government or a Whitehall department, so there's a Barnett consequential to come to Scotland.

Should the London Government continue to insist that the money provided for English prisons comes from the Reserve, and that this will not result in a renegotiation (exceptionally) of the English Justice budget, Scotland gets access to the Reserve for building the prisons we need 10.2:
specifically where:
1. a United Kingdom department is granted access to the Reserve to enable it to meet exceptional pressures on a spending programme. If a devolved administration has a comparable programme and establishes that it faces similar exceptional pressures, unforeseen at the time spending plans were settled, it will have the opportunity to make its case on access to the Reserve which will be considered.

You would think that if I can find this on the web a Cabinet Minister should be able to ask their Private Office to have it checked out, wouldn't you?

Back to Dizzy Dessie. He argues that abolishing Council Tax and introducing LIT instead would make Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK. Erm, no. removing one tax and replacing it with another does not automatically increase the overall tax take (how long has Labour been 'running' the country?) I might be getting old, but I remember a Labour party that once believed in taxation based on the ability to pay - apparently not any more. How much more pain have the poorest in our society to suffer before Labour relents? 12% of Scotland's taxpayers - the poorest 12% - have just seen their income tax bill double thanks to Labour's budget.

Just a couple more points. Early in his homily, Desmond preaches about
the SNP is the only level of government with any interest in Scotland

Much as I think that Scotland's Party is the party with Scotland's best interests at heart, our members would never think about the party being a 'level of government' - perhaps that reveals something about the arrogance of the Labour party?

The other thing is Dessie-baby's assertion that the SNP Government is 'beginning to wear thin amongst Scots' - I wonder why opinion polls keep going in the other direction if Des is correct? Perhaps he's just wrong?

I'd just like to apologise to everyone connected with the sitcom Desmonds - the pun was too good to miss, but no-one should be associated with the Labour farce against their will.

I will note, though, that the SNP Scottish Government has now come under attack from 4 Westminster Ministers - Gordon Brown, Des Browne, Yvette Cooper and David Cairns - in the past couple of weeks. Is this a tacit admission that Wendy Alexander simply isn't up to it?

As Des Browne signed off, "It's time they got on with governing rather than fostering grievance." Yup, they get paid enough.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Mother of What?

We are often told about the high level of debate in the London Parliament, how those great and finely honed minds of the Members wrestle with the important issues of the day and how those rapier wits and shining lights sparkle and shine from their Thameside fastness and shed understanding and brilliance around the world.
Being the kind of person I am - handsome, witty, dashing and debonair (and modest with it) - I like to check up on these things so, from time to time, I like to peruse the Official Report of Westminster - a publication they call Hansard. That's how I came to be reading the report of the debate on the Scotland Act from Tuesday just past. Sponsored by one Pete Wishart, it attracted all the greatest talents and was an excellent example of the best debating skills of Westminster. Let us enjoy it together.

Just a couple of minutes into Pete's opening speech when he was talking about the Scottish Government's National Conversation the sage of Midlothian intervened:
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that I am part of his national conversation. The first conversation that I have with him will be the last.
Lovely, isn't it?In cruised slim Jim (Hood of Lanark and Hamilton East):

I welcome the national conversation, but I should like it better if we could have it in Westminster.
Kind of missed the point there. The National Conversation is with the people of Scotland - it doesn't belong to politicians - far less to 59 MPs sitting in London, but I'm glad to see that at least one Labour MP intends to engage. Here's something interesting though, see these contributions from Labour MPs:

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I enthusiastically support the
commission because it will develop the Scottish Parliament in a very positive manner.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I want to support the commission that is under way—for one good reason. It allows us to review the whole gamut of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows powers to be taken back from the irresponsible Administration that currently exists in the Scottish Parliament.
Obviously singing from the same hymn sheet but one of them is holding it upside down. Sandra Osborne seeing Wendy's Independence Commission as being a move towards greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, Adam Ingram, still smarting from not being important any longer, sees it as a way of destroying Scottish democracy. I find it interesting that Adam Ingram has been an MP for 21 years and was a Minister for 10 of those years but still doesn't understand the difference between the legislature and the executive - Parliament isn't the Government.

Pete wasn't being kind to them, though:

I have imagined the scene in the Scottish Parliament when the commission idea was first suggested and mooted. I can imagine the Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament sitting in their weekly meeting, despondent and depressed. They have been completely shattered by their Scottish leader getting involved and embroiled in the donations scandal; bruised by the continued popularity of an SNP Government riding high in opinion polls; and monstered on a weekly basis at First Minister’s questions. I can see the former, sacked, disgraced, over-refreshed adviser going to the meeting and saying, “I’ve got an idea to get one over on the Nats. Let’s take the whole issue of the constitution to the SNP”. One can imagine all the back-slapping following such a suggestion.
However, Labour MSPs did not account for hon. Members here in Westminster. I can imagine the steam coming out of the ears of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) and others when they heard the plan for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. I can imagine mutterings of “Over my dead body” from the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the state of apoplexy induced in the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine).
Then that terrible cad MacNeil joined in the baiting:

Mr. MacNeil: I am struck by the impatience of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to get on with a referendum, which is welcome. They must know, of course, that the matter will come to the Scottish Parliament, in the terms of the Scottish Parliament, but I thank them for their impatience. Its importance to them is witnessed by the number of Labour Members who have come here today to join in the conversation.
He's a bad lad!
Anne Begg, though, Labour MP and star:

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire began his speech by saying that it is accepted everywhere that devolution is a process, not an event. Again, we can argue whether that is accepted everywhere, but it is his interpretation of the word “process” with which I have a problem. I have always understood a process to involve moving forward and perhaps changing something, not necessarily taking more powers. I do not think that any dictionary definition of “process” includes an assumption of more power. Sometimes it involves putting things together, as in the case of a process worker, but I do not know of any definition that necessarily involves adding, taking back or taking more powers.
Eh? If you know what the Dickens she's on about can you let me know? Mad as a badger!
Gordon Banks (not the former England goalie):

the Calman commission, to which I alluded—is approved by the Scottish Parliament;
Erm - no it's not - that Commission is still to come! He went on to say that

I did not engage in the conversation
which is a great shame -that such a tribune of the people will not engage in the National Conversation started by Scotland's Government. It gets better though:

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Perhaps the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) will stand up again and give us his view on whether it should take place in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr. MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Willie Rennie: No
I've taken a wee bit out that Willie continued with while Angus leapt to his feet, but this is the essence of the exchange. Marvellous! Here's his Libdem colleague Alastair Carmichael answering Angus MacNeil:

Mr. MacNeil: Let the people decide.
Mr. Carmichael: The people have decided; they decided last May and his party got 20 per cent. of the electorate’s votes, so let us not hear any nonsense about people deciding
That would be the SNP he's talking about. The SNP got 33% in the constituency and 31% in the additional member vote - more than any other party and more than the 16% and 11% scored by the Libdems. Maybe we shouldn't trust Libdem analysis, eh?
Another Libdem, Alan Reid:

Pete Wishart: This all seems to be quite a bit of a shambles; hon. Members cannot agree among themselves about these sorts of issues. What we need to hear from the hon. Gentleman is an answer to this question; if the Labour party persists with the idea of taking powers back from Holyrood, at what point will the Liberal Democrats leave the commission and have nothing whatsoever to do with that particular objective?
Mr. Reid: I will reiterate what I have said; the Liberal Democrats do not support any transfer of powers from the Scottish Parliament back to Westminster, and if the hon. Gentleman and his party would join the commission, they could add weight to that argument.
Pete Wishart: Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question?
Mr. Reid: That is typical of SNP members: they take the ball away; they will not participate in the discussions, and simply shout abuse from the sidelines, as the hon.
Gentleman continues to do.
Abuse? Jimmy Hood's back with his rapier-sharp wit though:

Mr. Hood: Is the hon. Gentleman going to tell the House that, if it was not for his policy, we would not have an SNP Government today? Is he saying that that was a good policy?
Mr. Reid: If it had not been for the Liberal Democrats insisting on proportional representation, the result of the Scottish Parliament elections would be very unfair, and we would have a Labour Government with an overall majority despite the fact that Labour won less than a third of the votes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not arguing that we should go back to that situation.
Mr. Hood: Yes.
See that intellectual giant strutting his stuff?
Ben Wallace once a Conservative MSP, now a Conservative MP for an English constituency, also spoke - I urge you to just read his speech for yourself - a rant in the classic style!

And so to the big gun - rolled out for a broadside on this occasion was that towering genius David Cairns, Minister of State at the Scotland Office - a grand title ...

Pete Wishart: For clarification, who was the Minister referring to when he came up with the phrase “the McChattering classes”? To which group of people in Scotland was he referring?
David Cairns: Actually, I had in mind the people who write opinion columns in the Sunday Herald and Scotland on Sunday. In fact, the newspapers could save money on those who write those columns. They could send an office boy around to St. Andrews house to collect press releases rather than have Ian McWhirter write them.
Losing the election must have hurt. There's a difference between disagreeing with what a journalist has to say and questioning their right to say it or questioning their motives. Old Cairns carried on -

We remember what things were like before the Act, when a handful of Ministers in
Dover house took all the decisions that affected health, education and transport in Scotland. We remember that that was wrong, and we remember how hard we worked to change the situation, and to have democratic accountability so that decisions on the big day in, day out issues—health, transport, crime—could be taken by Scottish politicians in Scotland who are closer to the people who they represent.
Local taxation maybe getting a look-in there David? Good to see, though, that he acknowledges that the SNP Government is closer to the people of Scotland than Labour could ever hope to be. In that case, though, surely the Scottish Government is in a better position to make decisions on the model of governance for Scotland?

As Mr Cairns himself says:
letting the people exercise power at a level that is closer to them is part of our core principles as a party.
He must be delighted with the SNP Government exercising power so well.
Every time I read Westminster debates I come away thinking "is that the best they've got?"
I think I'm going to have to go down there and sort them out before Scotland heads off into Independence - it doesn't seem fair to leave them drowning.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

In the kingdom of the blind

Elaine Smith, Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, is never afraid to say what she thinks.

Recently she put forward for consideration her thought that Labour should not be afraid to support the SNP where the SNP Government was doing the right thing for Scotland. She argued that Labour MSPs should be voting for the ending of prescription charges, for the abolition of the Graduate Endowment tax on learning, for ending the right to buy on newbuild social housing, and so on.

In the Kingdom of the Blind the one-eyed woman is a heretic proclaiming her belief in the existence of light - Labour will not follow the eminently sensible advice offered by Elaine Smith and she will, no doubt, be decried for actually understanding how politics in Scotland must work under minority Government.

While it is obvious to most people in this country that the SNP Government is making a decent fist of delivering, Labour continues to sit in denial and continues to look for instant and short-term victories over the Government. Continuing attempts to ensure that the majority unionist grouping in Parliament gangs up against the nationalist minority results in the people who watch politics siding more with the minority Government.

Why? Because Labour started in too early and too bluntly, they never had cause for their complaints (and still don't), speculated beyond the available evidence, and never accepted defeat in the election. The people of Scotland had elected an SNP Government - by a painfully thin margin, but elected nonetheless - and the public attitude was one of contemplation and consideration. They'd kind of shoved the cake in the oven and were waiting to see how it came out but Labour keeps opening the oven door. The public view of the Government was of one that was prepared to stand up for Scotland when it was necessary and one that would try to govern well.

The majority opposition ganging up on the minority Government was always going to look like bullying unless they had some seriously string grounds for it - the Conservatives learned that lesson very quickly and the Libdems have cottoned on latterly, but Labour still doesn't get it. Labour preoccupation is with being in power rather than being effective in Parliament, Labour's Shadow Cabinet cannot see that this is no strategy for a Parliamentary session - they continue to run headlong at a brick wall instead of opening the gate in it - that's why Wendy Alexander has had to reshuffle her pack after six months - they're already exhausted.
Partly this comes from Labour's belief that it owns Scotland, owns compassion, and owns all the righteousness - for a look into that particular heart of darkness, you could do worse than take a look at a recent Compass article written by the very cream of Labour's Scottish talent from Michael Connarty to Ian Davidson. I intend to come back to this article at some later date, but a clipping from it may be instructive -
The SNP are fighting hard to steal the social democratic mantle away from Labour.
The idea that any party 'owns' a part of politics is absurd in the extreme. We are watching, I believe the death-throes of a once respectable party.

It's not a new socialism they need, it's some humility and a desire to ask what they can do to make amends.